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November 10, 1997: 2:57 p.m. ET

Boeing works to make airplane cabins roomier with adjustable seats, beds
By Correspondent Dick Wilson
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SEATTLE (CNNfn) - Although comfort always takes a back seat to safety when airplane design is concerned, some lucky passengers might finally be getting both.
     Boeing, the world's largest airplane manufacturer, recently unveiled what could be the airplane interior of the future.
     In a transportation industry where airports and airlines are still looking for ways to stuff more people into smaller spaces, Boeing's designers are paying a bit more attention to making passenger cabins comfortable while still allowing air carriers to squeeze more revenue out of the same space.
     One innovation, already in limited use in Europe, is a row of seats that instantly converts from economy to business class and back.
     "You roll it back to a new position and, of course, to make the seats wider, these seats need to pull out laterally," explains Boeing's Klaus Brauer. "We're now seeing up to two feet more to enable passengers to recline fully and sleep in first class. We're now seeing carriers with this level of leg room in business class on intercontinental flights, so business class has really upgraded in the last few years, and that's a trend we see continuing."
     This is a radical shift from traditional airplane cabin design, which sometimes relies more on creating the illusion of space than on finding ways to utilize existing space more comfortably.
     "We've learned in the 767 and brought that forward into the 777 to wash light down the aisle," Brauer notes. "To draw the eye up of people seated in the center of the airplane and also out here. Second is we've relied very heavily on keeping the side wall as vertical as we can."
     Business travelers are the only ones likely to see an increase in space - something economy passengers also want, but rarely get. Brauer admits that there are no big changes ahead for the economy section in the near future, but offers the casual traveler advice on something seasoned business travelers already know.
     "If you're in an airplane like this with a two-seat unit on the outside, what you would prefer to choose is the aisle seat in the center section," he explains. "Because passengers ask for window and aisle seats, these two will be assigned quickly, as will this, but this inner seat will be among the last to be filled."
     Finally, while the old, luxurious Pullman-style bunk beds don't figure into Boeing's new design plans, sleep in the air might finally become less of a chore on long trips. At least one international airline has installed first class seats that flatten into full-size beds. With innovations like these, there is hope that the red eyes and cramped muscles of overnight flights might become a bit less universal, even if they probably won't disappear altogether any time soon.Back to top


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